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Urban-Rural Foodlinks
Research and networking in the West Midlands.
Participants were Tof Ojul Islam (Black Environment Network), Anand Birju (Hindu Council), Teresa Haddon (Birmingham Foodlinks,(Paul Benham (organic farmer and project director), Chris Stockdale (Biodynamic farmer and coordinator for Herefordshire Organic Producers group), Elaine Brook (Gaia Partnership) Emma Hockridge (MSc Advocacy, Holme Lacy College).

The discussion explored a list of foods in demand among the ethnic communities in Birmingham and the potential possibilities for being able to grow them in suitable quantities in the soils and climate of Herefordshire.
discussion group
Executive Summary
The agricultural industry has taken a significant economic down turn in recent years. The government is encouraging farmers to reconnect with consumers and markets, and to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. One way in which farmers are attempting to revive their industry is through the promotion of ‘local food’, which markets food directly from farmer to consumers without transporting it over large distances. Local food in the UK is currently often the preserve of the white middle class, but the benefits, such as access to fresh vegetables, and the health-giving properties they provide, should be available to all sectors of society. One of the aims of this scheme is to attempt to provide such benefits to a wider variety of people.

Vegetables used by Asian communities are currently imported from a wide range of countries. Such importation is damaging to the environment, and vegetables are often a number of days old before they reach their destination, causing a subsequent decline in nutritional value.

Many such vegetables are successfully grown in allotments and gardens in this country. The knowledge of those who grow these crops could be utilised by farmers who are searching for new enterprises, and Asian people could benefit by being given an opportunity to grow such crops on a larger, field scale. School and community groups could visit farms to learn about healthy eating, and the origin of their food, whilst enjoying the recreational benefits that the countryside can provide. Research has shown that many Asian people feel unease when visiting the countryside, therefore such a scheme may present an opportunity to overcome such discomfort.

Growing Asian vegetables within an organised scheme may offer an opportunity to practise sustainable growing techniques, and to develop ‘best practise’ for the horticulture industry. Vegetables which are produced using sustainable methods such as organic growing are often more expensive than those which are conventionally grown, when they are bought in retail outlets such as Supermarkets. The creation of more direct supply chains between the farmer and consumer allows prices to remain lower, rendering the vegetables more accessible to all sectors of the population.

A number of direct marketing techniques are now available to farmers. These include Farmers Markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) schemes, and vegetable ‘box’ schemes.

Most Asian vegetables are currently sold at markets, and shops owned by members of the Asian community. These outlets have the potential to be another important supply route for British grown vegetables if a reliable supply of crops can be produced at a competitive price. A producer co-operative, or similar scheme may provide the scope to achieve such goals.

Many organisations have shown a strong interest in developing a scheme to achieve these aims, and the framework has been put in place for this idea to be developed into a working initiative.

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